Uniting incompatible databanks

NASA scientists recently developed a software framework that unites normally incompatible computer data management systems to improve performance and increase efficiency.

Before the Program Management Tool (PMT) was developed, NASA researchers had to gather and merge information from multiple computer systems based on different hardware and operating systems, which was often time-consuming. These mismatches also complicated data exchange among new and old systems common in both government and industry.

“The Program Management Tool is slicing red tape and barriers that block information exchange among government agencies in the post-9/11 world,” said David Maluf, the PMT principal investigator and a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Centre, located in California’s Silicon Valley. “PMT provides seamless, automated, Web-based government-to-government updates among different kinds of computer systems,” Maluf explained.

As a result of PMT use at NASA, workloads and error rates are said to be reduced, which is helping the agency achieve efficiency goals established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Maluf believes that managers could use PMT to improve International Space Station and space shuttle operations by providing real-time information.

“The architecture that we have developed facilitates data synchronisation between large, complex data management systems,” Maluf asserted. “This is the same challenge that faces many commercial organisations today – how do we develop new tools to meet current and future organisational challenges while maintaining connectivity with current systems?”

Another new NASA software product, a database system called Erasmus, displays management performance and accountability measurements. This software sorts NASA project and program data by ‘enterprise,’ project, type and other classes. In addition, Erasmus updates information monthly, and it also includes key successes, issues, risks, quality measures, performance rate, milestones, schedule and human capital figures. Erasmus can help scientists visualise an entire mission or program in detail.

Using PMT, NASA computer scientists linked Erasmus with other NASA computer systems to provide detailed information about projects. “Erasmus is a very good strategic management tool for the agency, but we developed the Program Management Tool to provide a finer level of granularity to our management processes,” Maluf said.

Maluf and three colleagues, Jason Duley, Brett Lewinski and Kenyon West, used advanced Internet technology and Extensible Markup Language (XML) to integrate the Program Management Tool and Erasmus over the Internet.

NASA scientists believe that the Program Management Tool potentially could have commercial uses and ‘spin off’ to private industry, which often struggles with the same problems as government does – combining data from various incompatible computer systems.